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Recycling laser cuts TV trash

18 Jun 2004

An automated laser process developed in Finland could help firms meet European recycling targets.

Finnish environmental technology company Proventia has developed an automated laser process to recycle cathode-ray tubes (CRTs). The process takes only 25 to 45 seconds to cut apart a CRT and separates materials so efficiently that almost nothing is returned to landfill.

According to the Environment Agency, the UK alone discards at least 1 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) every year, with this number estimated to be growing annually by 4 - 8%. Future EU legislation will entitle private householders to return WEEE to retailers when buying a new product, and puts pressure on the industry to find more efficient ways of recycling unwanted products.

To help address the problem, Proventia has come up with an automated solution to the recycling of PC-monitors, TV-sets and CRTs. The system is the result of a research project between Proventia, Lappeenranta University of Technology, the Polytechnic of Oulu and the Finnish technology funding agency TEKES. At the heart of the process is a 1.5 kW CO2 laser supplied by German manufacturer Rofin-Sinar.

Proventia claims that the laser recycling process is up to 10 times faster than conventional methods, depending on the size of the CRT tube and the level of automation. Sensors measure the incoming CRT to determine the necessary laser cutting parameters and beam path.

"People are still using hammers to separate CRTs," Mika Kiiskinen of Proventia told Optics.org. "Our initial investment costs are higher, but the [recycling] cost per unit is much cheaper than any other method, such as using saws or heated wire technology."

Being a totally dry process without any cleaning liquids, the laser technique also provides better control over the collection of poisonous materials thus avoiding contamination of the parts to be recycled.

The firm says that its process is currently the only one able to reclaim glass that is sufficiently pure (lead-free) to be reused in tube factories. Other materials, such as metal from the shadow mask and fluorescent materials from the surface of the panel glass are also supplied back to producers for reuse.

The system is commercially available and is being used by customers in Finland.

James Tyrrell is reporter on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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